In late 1967, a 14-year-old girl in New Mexico wrote a fan letter to David Bowie. Sandra Dodd became the first American to ever reach out to him, and he immediately typed up a response to send right back to her.
“In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it,” he wrote. “‘Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you,’ said my manager.”
That’s right: David Bowie was born David Robert Jones, and he used the name “Davie Jones” when he recorded his first-ever single with his band, the King Bees. But by the mid-1960s, another British musician called Davy Jones was fronting that pre-fab pop band, The Monkees.
The o.g. Jones realized that he needed to make a change, but his first stab at a stage name was similarly ill-fated. “Before he got to David Bowie, he didn’t want to lose the Jones bit of his name,” podcaster and QI researcher Dan Schreiber said. “So he changed his name, and started recording as an artist under the name Tom Jones. And as he did that, [Welsh singer] Tom Jones exploded, and he was like, ‘Come on man, what is this?’”
On his next attempt, he decided that he’d hang on to David and pick up a new last name. Author John Lyons wrote that Bowie was inspired by the film The Alamo. “In 1965, David Jones adopted the name David Bowie in homage to [Texan rebel] Jim Bowie,” Lyons wrote in America in the British Imagination: 1945 to the Present.
That one worked. David Jones became David Bowie, and David Bowie became DAVID BOWIE, in all caps, as he became a world-renowned superstar. But when he was at home with his wife, Iman, and their daughter, he left the Bowie bit at the door. “One day when [our daughter] Lexi was seven years old, she saw a poster of her father,” Iman told People last November. “And then she asked, ‘But why is he called Bowie?’”
I guess because “Tom Jones” was already taken?
A version of this story appeared on the news page of Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink.